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Not just another one...

Palmetum of Santa Cruz de Tenerife
by José M. Zerolo and Patricia Morales, Urb. Las Cañas 39, La Laguna, 38208, S.C. de Tenerife, Canary Islands. e-mail: ea8ck@inicia.es
Chamaerops No. 43-44, published online 05-08-2002

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Picture 1:A panoramic view of the Palmetum location. Between the Auditorium and Congress Hall, the access road can be seen. On the hill on the right side, protruding into the Atlantic
ocean, is the landfill converted into palmetum.
Picture 2: Ravenea rivularis 'sprout' up from the Malgasy lake.
Picture 3: Nothing better after a hard working day than a bit of mystic relaxation. Mrs. Morales (co-author) and Dypsis decaryi.
Picture 4: Author with Cuban royal palms, Roystonea regia, at Caribbean area. A hedge of Cocos nucifera at the background.
Picture 5: Nice group of Wodyetia bifurcata.
Picture 6: Shade house. Bentickia nicobarica on the right. Two species of Licuala.
Picture 7: Bismarkia nobilis. The Author did not resist the temptation to picture himself in the company of such a beauty and beast.

The goal of this article is to share with readers some of the best news we could have at the beginning of the present millennium.

About one month ago I was driving through one of the main entrances to the capital city Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The road runs along the coast and through the outer, industrial part of the city. This zone has been devoted for many decades to industry, a refinery, and a waste disposal area, thus becoming the least pleasant area of Santa Cruz. As time passed it became obvious that the city growth had to invade such an area and that all previous industrial character had to be changed in a radical way. Those plans included creating a coastal resort with a number of pools and green areas, an auditorium and other services. As a great part of the area was in close relation to the landfill, which was shutdown several years ago, it was necessary to give the area a face lift.

At that time, I only knew that this rubbish mountain was covered with earth and that some palmtrees could be seen growing on the side of the hill facing the road. From my moving car I could rapidly identify a number of Cocos nucifera, Dypsis decaryi, Wodyetia bifurcata, Roystonea regia, other Dypsis and Latania, plus others which seemed to be Veitchias. In the distance there were also quite a large number of palmtrees planted among buildings. I had no idea what was happening on top of this bad-smelling landfill until I stopped at a notice on which a description was printed. It read: "PALMETUM DE SANTA CRUZ." Well, that was good news for me! As I had known nothing about this Palmetum I was really anxious to visit it. Despite its being closed and under construction, I was lucky enough to receive permission from the Ayuntamiento (town hall / municipality) for a tour.

The idea for this Palmetum was Manuel Caballero's, head of the department of ornamental plants in the Instituto Canario de Investigaciones Agrarias (ICIA). Caballero concluded that no other area in Europe could grow such a variety of palms due to our climate. When finished, it should therefore be a must-see for palm enthusiasts, or even for interested locals and tourists in general. It is a kind of luxury, especially for European palm enthusiasts, to have such a tropical garden in Europe at a mere two to three hours flight.

Work on the landfill started in March, 1996 with funds mainly from the European Union. Since then quite a lot of work has been done. Mr. Carlo Morici, artist and designer of the Palmetum, proposed about 500 species be included. Approximately 400 species have already been planted and are growing quite well. Six of these species are unique to this Palmetum, another highlight for palm enthusiasts. The total number of palmtrees planted is 6000. The location is a hill, 42m in height and with about 120000 sq. m of surface, mostly sloped, but with 55000 sq. m of flat area. It also includes a shade house of about 2300 sq. m.

On the day of the tour, and at the very Palmetum door, I was introduced to the person in charge of public gardens in Santa Cruz. Mr. Morici showed us the Palmetum in a truly palm-loving way. Many readers may know him from various palm papers published in recent years. This young man is a mixture of knowledge, kindness, and ëpalm-loveí. We were lucky indeed to meet him.

As we entered the access road we were received by Royals, various Dypsis, and Latans, to name only a few. On the left there was a collection of different Butias, and opposite a very nice collection of Trachys. Just behind us there was a building which is going to be a museum of "palm objects," already containing more than 400 pieces. In front of us there was a pond surrounded by different palms, of which the multiple Gaussia princeps were the most striking. There we were introduced to the distribution of this breathtaking place. It is organised into nine geographical areas, including Indomalayan, Pacific, Australian, Central American, South American, Madagascar, Mascarenes, Caribbean, and African regions. In addition, there are special gardens for Hawaii and New Caledonia.

While an extensive description of the Palmetum is not possible here, I will try to give an overall impression. There are collections that have to be mentioned for their size, such as the Caribbean one, which already includes 1000 plants of Thrinax and Coccothrinax, making it the world's largest collection. I found the Pacific and Australia zones particularly eye-catching, with Veitchias full of colourful fruits and dense Wodyetia plantings. As a Madagascar and Mascarenes palm lover, I was not disappointed at all with the areas dedicated to a large variety of Dypsis, Bismarkias, Latanias, and Hyophorbes. Finally, the Cuban zone has its own coconut-tree beach, and the project includes a relaxing area in which you may have a drink beside a magnificent waterfall.

The shade house looks, from the outside, like a huge, circular, white tent, not very high in appearance. Upon entering, however, you find there are actually two levels, one at ground level and the other at a much lower level. It is crowded with a large number of specimens, some of them still in pots, but most of them already growing in the ground. As you enter, there are some adult Areca catechu bearing fruit, and some Caryota no's--a most eye-catching species due to size and perfection. We also found a very nice Camaedorea collection, Pelagodoxa, Licuala, Marojejya, and Verschaffeltia, among others. There is also a central column where some climbing palms will be exhibited. Finally, as we make our way through one of the sides of this dream garden, the water from a waterfall flows just under our feet between the stones.

We consider ourselves lucky to have been among the few allowed to visit the Palmetum before it is opened to the public. There is still quite extensive work to be done, including all the lanes, ground work (grass, volcanic stones, etc.), and all the details that are compulsory for that kind of monographic botanical park, but for palm enthusiasts like us, the outstanding collection and atmosphere makes all the remaining work and equipment unnecessary. Due to the nature of the place, its inherent instability, the decomposing process of the underground wastes, and the sometimes windy conditions, it is clear that efforts to overcome such problems have been both complicated and expensive, but the results are really promising so far.

If you plan to visit this Palmetum in the future, and you surely should, you may need something like four hours to walk through the place without really stopping, as based on our two visits. If you are the type of person who likes to browse, take notes or pictures, or just likes to have a relaxed walk through the palms, then you may need two to three days to see all you should.

Currently the project is halted, awaiting further funds for its conclusion. This park should be economically self-sufficient on opening and, furthermore, will create a permanent research unit servicing both the park and local ornamental plant growers. If everything goes according to plan, this jewel should be open to the public in about three years, but I'm sure you will read a lot more about this Palmetum before then.
We must thank all the individuals whose hard work has turned this Palmetum into reality, including politicians, artists, and staff. For this paper we would especially like to mention Mr. Carlo Morici, and to thank him for his continued help and collaboration.

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